Survey on my Research and Words of Gratitude
1 November 2011
University of Helsinki
“It will take some good years” was Ze’ev Ben-Ḥ-;-ayyim’s reply to my fairly naïve question: “How long does it take to write a PhD dissertation”? This was in 1970 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In fact, at that stage, I was considering doing research on mediaeval Hebrew >ivrit meshu>revet in Andalucia (the Arabs’ lost Paradise) and the overwhelming impact of Arabic language and culture. Instead, Prof. Ben-Ḥ-;-ayyim (1907-), the nestor of Samaritanology, persuaded me to write my doctoral dissertation on the Arabic translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch (ATSP). This field of study was then a kind of terra deserta, and it demands profound knowledge of three Semitic languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. I accepted this challenge because the field of minorities has been and continues to be very close to my heart and mind, in particular, the minorities of the Middle East. I myself, by the way, belong to several such minorities: I am an Arab, a Palestinian, an Israeli, a new Finnish citizen, and a Christian.
Writing my PhD dissertation took seven years, and it led to conclusions such as the following:
The ATSP emerged naturally in the eleventh century when Arabic had totally replaced the Samaritan Aramaic in speech, a western Palestinian dialect. This translation can be divided into five groups and the major ones are the first two:
1) The OTSP is ascribed to Abū-;- al-Ḥ-;-asan (Av Ḥ-;-isda) Isḥ-;-ā-;-q b. Farağ-;- b. Mā-;-rū-;-ṯ-;- al-Ṣ-;-ū-;-ri.
2) The ASRT. Abū-;- Sa˓-;-ī-;-d (b. Abī-;- al-Ḥ-;-usain b. Abī-;- Sa˓-;-ī-;-d) revised text.
3) Texts drawing heavily on the Tafsī-;-r of Rav Sa˓-;-adia Gaon (882-940).
4) Composite texts, one, two and three.
5) Texts based on MCAT (Modern Christian Arabic Translations).
It is significant that the fifth group was discovered when I was examining the Samaritan Mss (numbering approximately 90) housed at Yad Y. Ben Tsvi library in Jerusalem. The first verse in the Torah—bā-;-rā-;-š-;-Ə-;-t bā-;-rå-;- ē-;-luwƏ-;-m it aš-;-š-;-ā-;-mƏ-;-m wit ā-;-rƏ-;-ṣ-;-—as rendered into Arabic in some of those MSS took me by surprise: it reads: - Ýí ÇáÈÏÁ ÎáÞ Çááå ÇáÓãÇæÇÊ æÇáÃÑÖ . It is obvious that Samaritans in their translations did not use the word ÇáÈÏÁ in this context at all.
My critical edition of the whole Samaritan Pentateuch in Arabic was published for the first time in two volumes by the Israel Academy for sciences and humanities in 1989 and 2001. Over 100 MSS have been examined for this purpose. The significance of this edition lies in its contribution to a better understanding of the only Samaritan holy book, the Torah, and of the religion, exegesis, concepts and beliefs of the Samaritans and their methods and techniques of translation. It also sheds light on the dialects of Arabic and Aramaic that were prevalent among the Samaritans. Moreover, it contributes to a better understanding of the Samaritan Targum and plays an important role in the preparation of a critical edition of the Samaritan Hebrew Torah.
One example of its contributions will suffice here: the colloquial Arabic word ÊÚÔíä meaning ‘inauguration’ appears as the translation of ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ַ-;-ח-;-נ-;-כ-;-ּ-;-ת-;- ה-;-מ-;-ז-;-ב-;-ּ-;-ח-;-ַ-;- Num 7: 10 eenikkå-;-t ammazba in the oldest trilingual Samaritan MS, Synagogue Schechem 6 copied in 1204 in Damascus. It should be noted that this is the oldest attested evidence of this vivid word being used in my dialect, Kufur Yasif, in Western Galilee.
Hopefully, the third and last volume of my research, the Prolegomenon to the ATSP, will be ready in the near future. At the same time a monograph on the Samaritans in Arabic is almost ready. This unique Samaritan sect, the smallest (approximately 750 souls) and most ancient, deserves more than one monograph in Arabic.
Samaritans are striving to build a bridge of peace between the two major parties involved in the Middle East conflict, the Israelis and the Palestinians. They as well as the other minorities in the Middle East will be among the first to rejoice when a real and just peace is inshaallah/ im yirtse hashem/Sheema established. It is to be emphasised that any political solution must secure free and safe passage for the Samaritans of Holon and their brothers on Mt. Gerizim in Nablus. As for me, I intend to continue my research on the Samaritans with whom I have had friendly relations, mutual respect, and a common language and interests for more than four decades. The rich library of my friend, the late High Priest, El˓-;-azar Tsedaka, on Mt. Gerizim deserves thorough scrutiny and documentation as soon as possible.
I am honoured, moved and happy to receive the Samaritan Medal. My sincere thanks and gratitude go to its committee and to its chairman, my dear friend, Mr. Binyamim ben Ratson Tsedaka Hasafri, to the chancellor of the University of Helsinki, Professor Ilkka Maunu Olavi Niiniluoto, and to my colleague and old friend Abu Tuma, Tapani Harviainen. Words of deep gratitude are extended to all of you, dear guests. Last but not least may I simply say “mamnū-;-n” to my family. Shukran ğ-;-azī-;-lan, tuda rabba, suuri kiitos, to all of you and let us meet more often for such joyful occasions!